Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Day 5: Victor to Niagara Falls

Gear and clothes were dry by the following morning, so I set off by the back roads from Victor in the dark wearing my headlamp and aa bright yellow Izod windbreaker, required for the first time in the cool breezes. The country roads were pleasant and empty with deer appearing regularly to address me with those indignant stares before crashing into the woods. But the larger intersections were crowded with commuter traffic heading toward Rochester.

I made good time to Mendon, Rush and Scottsville where I entered the local diner full of dour Scots, or convincing fascimiles, who stared judgmentally, said nothing, and overcharged me. Was happy to show the place my mounted backside.

There are fewer routes west at this point to cross the last third of New York State, and I had to make a decision of whether to push further north or continue straight west through Batavia. The country is less hilly, which was a relief after the Appalachian ridges of eastern New York. But the scanty population meant that towns would be far apart, possibly complicating pit stops for water or repairs. I opted for a slightly more southerly route through the town of LeRoy, which features a Jell-O museum celebrating the invention of that substance within its borders (I didn’t pay it a visit) and one town with billboard-sized photos of local youths enlisted in various branches of the military, celebrated as “local heroes.” It was a good reflection of the heavily militarized environment of upstate with many signs in yards calling for the repeal of the (post-Newton, Connecticut, shooting) S.A.F.E. Act, which outlawed assault weapons, and others endorsing the Republican candidate for governor, Rob Astorino. Most people in the five boroughs could not correctly identify this personage, nor would they see any reason to do so.

My recollections of this day of pedaling are the least vivid, probably as a result of the unremarkable countryside and few interactions that I experienced while covering the 80-some miles between Victor and the Buffalo area. Local news and weather reporters speak of this stretch of western New York as the “lower tier,” a curious construct of the map—it’s where a long, straight line separates the southern portion of New York State from Pennsylvania but has no physical existence outside this cartographic formality.

The most remarkable stretch of the day was the route up the Niagara River to Niagara Falls, which I settled upon by checking the map and did not realize took me through a desolate, industrial stretch that included miles of eerily deserted buildings with nothing resembling civilization nearby. It was the one time that I felt vulnerable and exposed, not because of the presence of threatening or dubious-looking persons but due to the utter absence of any persons at all, including shops, stores or businesses along the way. It would not have been a comfortable spot for changing a flat.

Cheap and adequate motels are usually found on the outskirts of a city while downtown lodgings tend to be pricey. But Niagara Falls turned out not to follow that logic. The approaches to the tourist area were rundown and tragic, classic rust-belt scenarios everywhere with no rooms to be found of any sort. (The one exception was a grim welfare hotel near the sewage treatment plant that looked like the set for a sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.)

But the downtown hotels near the falls were moderately priced and staffed by cheerful employees who welcomed my bike into their rooms and made my stay there so enjoyable that I was tempted to take an extra day off. After a quick shower, I headed down to catch the spectacle at sunset and had, for the second time during the trip, a moment of ecstatic insight, influenced no doubt by the intense exercise and the wondrous sight and yet effused with something more mundane and remarkable banality: I was entranced by the idea of water.

Saint-Exupery in Wind, Sand and Stars describes his near-death experience in the Sahara desert after a plane crash and his last-minute rescue by a Bedouin with a bowl of life-giving water, and his phrases about the way he tasted the substance for the first time are memorable. Seeing that vast supply pouring over the cliffs between the U.S. and Canada made me marvel at the strange accident of our watery earth, how its temperature is precisely right for these molecules to come together and wash over us, to lubricate us into existence for whatever brief period we manage to sustain it. It was like an LSD trip, impossible to describe in any but banal terms and yet unforgettable.

The route: 96 out of Victor to 251 (Victor-Mendon Road) to Mendon and Scottsville, then rural roads 383 to U.S. 36, back away from traffic via 245 and 17 to Route 8, 34, and 33 into Batavia. Route 5 west to 324 and 384 through Amherst and Towananda, 265 and 384 into Niagara Falls. Victor to Towananda, 82 miles, to the falls another 18. Total: 100 on flat terrain.

1 comment:

Taaj Jaharah said...

I love the picture and moreover the description of the LSD trip, never took one, but I am quite sure it would be a tough thing to describe. Tim has done an eloquent job here nonetheless. I feel like I went.